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I never was the most liberal, tree-hugging member of any party. So how did I become the type of person who now recycles, drives a hybrid, and is about to place power-producing solar panels on my home?

I guess I could say that I married into the environmental movement, which is true. But that’s too easy of an explanation.

One of the first inklings of my interest in alternative housing was in college, when a newspaper article told about actor Dennis Weaver building a house in Colorado made with discarded tires. I distinctly recall reading that Weaver’s house had a constant, year-round temperature like a cave, so that it would cost much less to heat and cool during seasonal extremes. I remember how cool I thought that was.

I didn’t have the chance until the Internet age to further research Weaver’s house, which I discovered was an Earthship. Emily and I ultimately didn’t build an Earthship (maybe someday), but it sparked a lot of ideas on how to lessen our power consumption and improve our home’s climate control.

But my interest in environmentally friendly methods goes back further, while growing up on the farm in the Midwest. My grandfather used passive solar heat to help dry the grain that he harvested instead of relying so much on noisy, power-eating electric dryers. A few dozen miles away, another farmer erected a wind turbine and generated enough power during some months to get the electric company to pay him.

But it wasn’t just neato gadgets and new ways to pinch pennies. My parents also instilled in us that we were stewards of the land, that it was our duty to leave it in as good or better condition for the next generation of farmers. That led to no-till planting to conserve the topsoil. That led to cutting back on the use of herbicides and insecticides because my family instinctively knew that overuse of such chemicals was harmful.

It wasn’t Al Gore or Iron Eyes Cody or, God forbid, Earth First! that ultimately led me to being more environmentally responsible. It was my years on the windswept Illinois prairie.

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